Geoff Richards

How to get them talking

How can teachers get their students to interact in a way that's beneficial?

Need inspiration for an Ajarn article? Just look back over threads in the Classroom section of Ajarn Forum! Real questions from real teachers. Results guaranteed every time. On to my article.

I've been studying the pitfalls of teaching English in Thailand ever since I arrived here some 5 years ago. There are none as far as I can see. English is a compulsory subject and the government provides a budget for foreigners to teach it. It's up to the individual to find the school that best suits them.

There are however shortfalls in studying it. Most students have to sit in a class with over 50 other students. Lessons are limited to 50 minutes. Written and verbal expression is quashed by the need to pass easy-to-mark multiple choice and gap-fill tests and exams.

Can you hold a meaningful conversation with most/all of your top scorers? Very unlikely.

Can you hold a short conversation with most/all of your top scorers? Not unless you're asking simple yes/no questions.

Do you attempt to hold any kind of conversation with your top scorers? I'll leave the answer up to you.

Why do I only mention top scorers? Because they grasp the structure of English quickly and have the best chance of one day studying overseas or making money from their ability. Better still, both.

All other students that appear on our radar can only be helped to pass tests and exams. There are simply too many students and not enough hours in the day. And that's a fact.

Here's what I've been attempting for the past 2 years.

If students don't learn to interact with their teacher and other students in English during P1 to 4 then they'll find themselves struggling to do so by the time that they enroll at a private language centre because they're preparing for university or want a better job.

I've taught English at all levels from kindergarten to adults but have concentrated on P1 to 4. It really is the make or break point. [Kindergarten is only about learning the alphabet and basic terms and early nouns].

Schedule one class per week where you allocate a simple but engaging reading, writing and colouring activity for the majority of students and then have the best either make a small group at your desk or take them outside.

Start with what they're already studying or know from the textbooks and keep it going. Use repetition by the bucket load and introduce new material that is fun to use. Don't make it seem like a typical lesson.

The results are usually quite impressive and improve as you develop. When you're comfortable with your new technique, extend it to the playground when you're taking a walk.

Happy New Year!



I was working in ChiangMai for about 4 years and then I went to Iraq, which was a disaster, now I'm here in Yemen.
The classrooms in Iraq were huge, with a minimum of 45 to a class, 45 mins for each lesson and sts weren't allowed to turn around, speak to eachother, no pair work, group work, no writing on the board and basically memorize everything you can fit in in the allocated time - which was always an astronomical amount! Even any games or activities had to go before a board of directors to decide whether it would be educational enough to warrant using. Consequently me and my husband who has been a TEFL trainer for the past 20 years, tried new tactics to try and relax the compulsary methods which seemed medi-evil. To no avail, we were shipped out from there as trouble makers after only 2 months.
Now we're in Yemen, it's better. I have a maximum of 23 students, all willing to learn. But their older, most of them 19 or 20yrs old. I teach the communicative approach and they seem to think it's amazing and are very appreciative of activities and "games" within the classroom. But having just read your article, it has reminded me how much I really miss Prathom 3 and 4, what I generally taught in ChiangMai.
Thanks for the happy memories and I hope that one day soon I will return.



By Katie, Yemen (22nd January 2010)

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